That’s what unions strive for. Many of us think it’s only about union members at the workplace but what we don’t always realize is how much that extends to the work many union members do in our communities for all of us.
A couple of weeks ago we attended the 59th Annual George Meany Awards banquet hosted by the Central Ohio Labor Council AFL-CIO and United Way of Central Ohio. This event never ceases to amaze me. It is truly an inspirational event to hear the stories of how people help others. These stories are truly great but unfortunately the public rarely hears about union members helping in the community.
People who provide services in their every day jobs are also community volunteers. Katie Coplin is a teacher for second and third graders. After being with the second and third graders all day, she doesn’t stop. Katie helps girls in this same age group by being a Girl Scout leader for a Brownie troop which means she probably uses multiple free time opportunities to continue to help children. This even happens in the summer as she helps with Girl Scout Day Camp. There’s also something else Katie has done in her limited spare time. She has been a building representative for her union.
Jeremy Matthew Thoma also helps people every day at his job. Jeremy is a firefighter-paramedic and in his limited spare time he helps with children, too. He is a cub scout leader. That’s not all he does with the Boy Scouts. He helps boys earn their badges and teaches first aid and CPR. Even though he enjoys being with his family and has a busy career, he still is devoted to helping improve the lives of others.
Then there’s another one who we’ve been very lucky to know. Walter “Butch” Deems has been a steelworker and he, too, helps with those who need assistance. Butch has given his time to help with St. Stephens Community House and providing food for families in need not just at Christmas time but all the time. Butch was a union leader and participated on a number of union committees and worked on presidential and legislative campaigns. He has also engaged with legislators on issues important to ALL workers and communities. We are especially pleased to have Butch on our board as we look at labor-management issues that face our community. Congratulations, Butch, on receiving the George Meany Award for 2018 in central Ohio!
In addition, Bexley High School was the recipient of the 2018 Youth Services Award. Students wanted to help homeless people so they set up a non-profit organization and spent time educating their fellow students on the importance of the project. Multiple unions provided support and local businesses also helped the students raise over $10,000 for several homeless shelters.
Outside of Columbus, unions have helped with disasters. In hurricane areas, unions were there to volunteer their services to help bring back those communities. New York unions helped in Puerto Rico. Unions reported in Minnesota the amount of assistance that was provided for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma victims. All over the United States labor unions help wherever help is needed. When the 9/11 attack occurred, hundreds of union members, including one of our former board members, helped with recovery efforts and ended up with related health issues.
Most of us have a favorable opinion of unions and it’s easy to understand why. Not only do millennials prefer unions because of traditional labor issues but it’s also because of their community service and social justice. Some employers, too, according to the Washington Post, say unions help with problem resolution and employer-employee relations. Just like the businesses and the unions that helped Bexley High School students, other employers and unions around the country partner on community issues to show good will.
Yet despite all the help they provide to so many people in distressing situations, there is a problem that continues to gravel me. It’s the negative stories that seem to be louder. Why do some people want to paint unions as bad? The American Postal Workers Union tells it best in a blog about 9/11 union responders. The blog states union members are treated as if they are scoundrels.
On their website, Heritage Foundation in 2015 never talks about the great things unions do. Are they jealous of labor’s ability to help others? Their biggest complaint about unions seems to be unions are about themselves and only want to increase wages at workplaces. Part of that is true. Unions do want to increase wages for members but it also helps to increase wages at similar nonunion workplaces. And if you think about it, who would ever disagree to a higher wage. I’m sure those at Heritage Foundation wouldn’t turn down a little extra money. Heritage Foundation, though, extends the wage complaint to say unions hurt industry growth and the example they use in one article is the auto industry which really isn’t a good example. In a Business Insider article, the problem with union wages doesn’t appear to hurt profitability for automakers. The years of 2015 and 2016 were record years for the Big 3. While things have recently cooled off for them, the auto manufacturers still are not complaining. The other thing, UAW and the Big 3 have worked together on a number of issues.
It would be easy to counter the negative messages of Heritage Foundation and others with the great community service stories but unions don’t. Maybe they don’t because it’s a matter of pride or it’s just a natural part of them. Whatever the reason, wouldn’t it be nice if it helped to silence or at least temper those who have such disdain for them? It’s hard to say it would work but with all the enormous evidence on the good things unions do not just in central Ohio but all over the country, why is it necessary to vilify these people? Isn’t it time we all just got along?